Greg Cote

Return of Frank Gore is feel-good story that continues curious offseason for Dolphins

Fourteen years after he was a Hurricanes star, running back Frank Gore returns to Miami as a Dolphin.
Fourteen years after he was a Hurricanes star, running back Frank Gore returns to Miami as a Dolphin.

The Dolphins bringing Frank Gore back home hit all of the right emotional notes. The heart testified it was purely perfect — that a born-and-raised local kid and all-time Miami Hurricanes great should end his excellent NFL career back in this city, his city.

All of that is true, but so is this: The Dolphins signing Gore continues a troubling offseason for the Fins, one that sees the team getting older by bringing in stopgap veterans who won’t be a part of whatever future this franchise is hoping and planning for itself.

Let’s start with the positive of Gore’s reunion with Miami and South Florida fans, because it is a plus, when seen through a micro lens.

He is steadily reliable and durable. He has started all 16 games for six seasons in a row, which few running backs of any age can claim. And he is a class act who’ll be a positive influence on younger backs such as presumed starter Kenyan Drake.

The emphasis of the Dolphins’ makeover and coach Adam Gase’s apparent intention is to weed out the problem children, the attitude cases, and replace them with strong locker-room guys who’ll change the “culture.” That might be a dubious course — getting rid of difficult talent in favor of guys less-talented but who “fit” better. If that’s the idea, though, Gore dovetails perfectly.

It also is evident his tank is not empty. Gore produced 1,206 combined rushing and receiving yards last season for a Luck-less Colts offense that was even worse than Miami’s.

And the feel-good factor is undeniable. Thirty-seven former Hurricanes have played for the Dolphins across franchise history, but only a handful have been notable contributors such as Woody Bennett, Vernon Carey, Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon.

Gore will be the most accomplished ex-Cane ever in a Fins uniform. His 14,026 rushing yards are fifth all-time. You’d feel safe buying stock in his being a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

The problem is that signing a running back who will be 35 in May to a one-year contract is the kind of luxury you see established winning teams do, not teams like Miami that are coming off a 6-10 season and rebooting in search of a national relevance not had in 15-plus years. It’s a Bill Belichick/Patriots-type signing, a specifically targeted quick-fix for a minor need. It’s what we just saw the Super Bowl-champion Eagles do, for example, in signing veteran receiver Mike Wallace.

It wouldn’t be a problem if the Gore signing were an isolated instance this offseason for Miami. But it isn’t.

New receiver Danny Amendola is 32 and a guy Belichick, the master of jettisoning older players at just the right time, didn’t really try to re-sign.

New guard Josh Sitton will be 32 in June, the team’s best free agent signing thus far, and solid for now, but for how long?

New center Daniel Kilgore is 30, available because the 49ers made it a priority to sign somebody better.

New defensive end Robert Quinn, whom Miami traded for, might be closer to his prime, turning 28 in May, except he has fallen off sharply since he looked like a rising star in 2013-14, with his past three seasons marked by inconsistency and injuries.

Of all of the notable additions this offseason, only receiver Albert Wilson, who’ll be 26 in July, and quarterback Brock Osweiler, 27 — signed Friday — are guys one can envision as a part of the Dolphins’ future beyond a year or two. Except there are caveats with both.

Miami is paying Wilson $24 million over three years, a bounty bigger than his production has warranted. He is fast but undersized at 5-9, and after four seasons the Chiefs moved on from him as a potential star.

Osweiler’s upside is that he gives the Dolphins a more experienced backup than the unfortunately named David Fales. But Osweiler’s career passer rating is a subpar 76.5, and he was worse last season in Denver. This is not someone you expect to come in and push Ryan Tannehill to be better, let alone take his job. Rather, he is a visor-and-clipboard guy, so so-so he makes Tannehill look better by comparison. The Osweiler signing changes nothing if you are inclined to think, as I am, that Miami should draft a QB in the first round next month.

The sum of the players added is dubious, especially as it relates to long-term value, relative to the talent lost: Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey. (And Jay Ajayi, dating to the middle of last season.) None of those four was a perfect locker-room guy or always delightful to coach, but all four were dynamic, impact players with Pro Bowl talent. And none has been replaced with comparable talent.

Looking at it logically, through a macro lens, the offseason thus far leaves even a naturally optimist fan challenged to see the Dolphins as better today than they were.

At least adding Frank Gore lets a fan feel fuzzy-good on an emotional level. Which is better than nothing, I suppose.

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